The following article was published in the January newsletter at Redeemer, Huntington Beach, CA, where I serve as pastor. Although some of the evangelism details are specific to Redeemer’s context and our location, local examples from other congregations’ immediate context could be easily inserted in place of the examples I have provided. And even though this was written in its original context during the season of Epiphany, the substance of the article could be adapted to any time of of the church year, especially this Pentecost / Trinity season where we are reminded Sunday after Sunday, reading after reading, that Christ in and through His Word and Sacraments is planting seeds of faith, feeding His sheep, and giving growth and life by His living, active Word. And this brings up one final introductory remark: a congregation’s (or individual’s, or pastor’s, etc. for that matter) view and approach to evangelism reveals a great deal about their view and approach of theology. In other words, the way you “do evangelism” shows how you “do” theology. The manner in which the church conducts evangelism (practically and substantially speaking) shows what is believed, taught, and confessed. You see, doctrine and practice go together, mission and confession are inseperable.
Welcome to Epiphany, the season that follows Christmas. But what does this mean? Usually when we hear the word, “epiphany,” we find ourselves saying, “I had an epiphany” or “the light went on” or “Eureka!” In a way this is fitting. Epiphany literally means to reveal or make known or manifest something or someone.
In this season, Christ, reveals and makes known his person and work; Jesus “epiphanies” himself for you and for the life of the world. This is clearly seen in one of the most iconic events of the season of Epiphany, the Magi’s visitation of the toddler, Jesus. For this reason, Epiphany is also known as Christmas for the gentiles. After all, the magi were from the East, known as Persia at the time. They were not children of Abraham in the flesh, but they became children of Abraham – and more importantly – children of God by faith in the Christ, and faith came by hearing the Word. And just as Christ revealed and came for the Magi, so too he comes to save all nations (see Revelation 7:1ff).
Matthew bookends his Gospel with a Word of hope and promise that salvation has come to the gentiles through Christ, the Savior of the nations. In the Epiphany of our Lord, we see a foreshadowing of Jesus’ words to his disciples before he ascends to the right hand of God:
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. As you are going, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)
Thus, Epiphany is also a season where Church reflects and focuses on the mission of God and her calling in that mission: to faithfully proclaim, witness, declare, and defend the Gospel and to accompany that proclamation with works of mercy. In other words, Epiphany is a season for evangelism and outreach as Christ continues to reveal and make known – as he “epiphanies” – his death and resurrection for us and for all sinners.
This Epiphany season is the time for us as a congregation to be more intentional about mission and evangelism in our local area. It’s easy to send in a check to the far reaches of the globe or across the United States. And while this is important and necessary work we must be careful of not falling into an either / or trap, either foreign mission or local. The answer is both. Because we also have a mission field right in our backyard: the preschool, our music academy, bible studies, Gospel Seeds and other opportunities around Redeemer where the Gospel of Jesus – crucified for your sins – is clearly proclaimed and tangible mercy is given to those in need. For years Redeemer’s newsletter and bulletin have included the following words:“Clear Witness – Caring Service – Together.” Recently, our Synod has adopted a similar slogan: “Witness, Mercy, Life Together.” But if these words are just a slogan, then we ought not call ourselves Christians or a Church.
Here at Redeemer [fill in your own church’s name] we do not lack opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus – Advent by Candlelight, Sunday Services, Weekly Bible studies, devotion booklets and a host of other resources. What we lack is action on those many treasures that our Lord has blessed us with.
How will we reach out to our neighbor this season and this New Year? How will each of us take personal responsibility to reach out to our neighbor in need? What message will your friends and neighbors hear when you invite them to church – that you’re simply doing it because you want a divine pat on the back or because you genuinely care about their spiritual welfare, that you simply want their wallets for a building program or because you actually care about them in body and soul?
During Epiphany, and all year round, Christ continues to richly bless this congregation with many gifts whereby we can reveal, make known and “epiphany” Christ’s salvation to our community, neighbors and friends. And the heart of the Epiphany season – and every season– is the Divine Service. Christ’s body and blood are the life-blood of the Church. Christ calls us to his altar, feeds, forgives and saves and then sends us out free and forgiven to serve the neighbor. And while we don’t always see what happens to those gospel seeds that are scattered upon our conversations, visitors and outreach events here at Redeemer, we know this: the Lord is faithful to his promise: “Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.”
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
All of this may seem overwhelming. But do not be afraid; sharing the Gospel with someone is simple: “Jesus died for you on the cross.” And by the Lord’s Word and Spirit we share the Good News one person, one invitation, one word of comfort at a time. Some plant, others water, but God gives the growth.
So, here is short list of 5 simple ways that every Christian can be an evangelist. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a start.
- Attend Divine Service, receive the Lord’s Supper frequently, and attend Bible study regularly. Evangelism begins in at the altar and then outward to our families and then our neighbors. If we aren’t fed and nourished by the study of God’s Word how can we begin to tell our neighbor why they should be fed and nourished? If we don’t know what we believe and why, what are we going to share with those who don’t believe in Christ? Through his Word, Christ is teaching us to know what we believe and why we believe it so we can give a reason for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).
- Invite your friends, family, and neighbors to church or bible study or one of our primary evangelism events, such as our Saturday morning seminars and studies or midweek services. Even though an invitation isn’t the gospel per se, it points our neighbors in the right direction. We see this in the New Testament repeatedly: “Sir, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21) and Andrew’s famous, “Come and see” (John 1:39). Invitations are easy; the worst people can say is no…and they just might say yes! Whatever the occasion is and whomever you are talking to, the personal contact and relationships we have in our everyday lives are where the best evangelism takes place. Your vocation is your mission field.
- Greet a visitor on Sunday morning or any other time you see a new face around Redeemer [read: your local congregation]. Before talking with the people you know and love, greet the unknown in Christ. This isn’t the job of the ushers alone; it belongs to everyone. Look for the visitors in the pews and on the patio. No need to carry on a long conversation– unless it turns into that. We have a habit of being too cliquey. Visitors notice when we go out of our way to say good morning and welcome them to church. It’s as simple as this: “It’s great to see you here; thank you for coming. We hope to see you again.”
- Give a devotion book or any number of useful resources at church along onto your neighbors or un-churched friends. I hand out the Portals of Prayer as well as the Higher Things devotion booklets regularly. These are easy, non-threatening ways to share a comforting word with your neighbors. Are any of your friends grieving the death of loved ones or suffering illness or other issues of body and soul? The information cart, as well as your pastors, has a wealth of information ready to share with others in need suitable any of life’s situations.
- Get involved. You can start by talking to any member of the Board of Evangelism (BOE), your elders, and pastors. The BOE is already hard at work in our neighborhoods and community. But the harvest is plenty and the workers are few. If you’re interested in evangelism there are endless ways to use the gifts God has given you to share the Good News with others. And just in case nothing comes to mind immediately, here are some specific areas the BOE could use your help in with:
- Visitor follow up – help send cards or make phone calls to visitors we receive for services and other events.
- Visitor welcome packets – help assemble these so that we have something to hand out to our guests, telling them what Redeemer believes, teaches and confesses.
- Preparing visitor mugs – that’s right, we “mug” our visitors. A coffee cup with a few pieces of information inside is a great conversation starter. We need help making more of these and getting them out on the information cart and into visitor’s hands.
- Join us for Gospel Seeds – this is a simple way to get to know our neighbor’s needs and come together as a congregation to act with mercy in addressing those needs. All you need are two feet and an open ear to listen to our neighbor’s needs. You’ll be surprised how refreshing it is when people open the door – not to a sales pitch or a question about dying tonight – but a person who genuinely cares for their needs and the needs of the community.
A blessed Epiphany [and now Pentecost!] season to you all as we go forth by the grace of God – fed in His Supper, comforted in His Word and saved by the Epiphany of His Son, Christ our Lord – to Clear Witness and Caring Service, Together.